Beavers return to Sanford Center to host Northern Michigan

Beavers return to Sanford Center to host Northern Michigan
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Beavers return to Sanford Center to host Northern Michigan

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team (5-6-3; 2-4-2-2 WCHA) shifts its focus back to Western Collegiate Hockey Association play this weekend as it hosts Northern Michigan University (8-8-0; 6-4-0-0 WCHA). With both teams looking to reverse recent losing stretches, the series could stand as a pivotal moment for both, win or lose.

The Beavers open the series seeking their first league win since a 3-2 victory in Fairbanks, Alaska, November 4. Since that time BSU is 1-4-1 and is 0-3-1 in WCHA play, which includes a 3-1 loss and 3-3 draw and shoot out win last weekend at Bowling Green State University. Third-Team All-WCHA forward, senior Gerry Fitzgerald continues to lead the team in scoring, averaging 1.00 point per game (4g-10a) in 14 appearances this season. Senior Kyle Bauman, who is second on the team with 13 points and a team-high six goals, is one of the Beavers’ hottest players after logging three assists in BSU’s last three games. He is joined by rookie Aaron Miller, who has more than doubled his career scoring total with three assists in BSU’s last three outings. CCM All-America West First Team goaltender Michael Bitzer has backstopped a penalty-kill unit that is tied with Ohio State for the nation’s lead through the first 10 weeks of the season. The team has snuffed out 43 of its opponents’ 47 man advantage opportunities (.915). Bitzer has started in the Beavers’ net for 13-of-14 games and is 5-5-3 with a .898 save percentage and a 2.73 goals against average.
Northern Michigan arrives at Sanford Center toting an 8-8-0 overall record and 6-4-0-0 mark in WCHA play under first-year head coach Grant Potulny. The Wildcats split with the University of Alabama-Huntsville (3-1 and 2-3) last weekend, but has dropped four of their last five games.  While NMU ranks near the bottom of the league in offensive output (2.40 GPG), the Wildcats own the stingiest defense. Led by junior goaltender Atte Tolvanen, who is 6-4-0 on the season with a .945 save percentage and a 1.68 goals against average in six WCHA games, the Wildcats have surrendered a league-low 2.10 goals per WCHA game this season. The NMU offense is led by a veteran group of forwards. Senior Robbie Payne is the team’s top scorer with 12 goals and 17 points (12g-5a). Junior Adam Rockwood has a team-high 11 assists and is third on the team with 13 points (2g-11a).

The Rivalry
Despite combining for over 3,400 games and over 1,800 victories dating back to the 1940s, the Beavers and Wildcats have gone head-to-head on just 19 occasions and the first meeting came in 2009. Bemidji State owns an 11-5-3 edge in the all-time series, which includes a sweep of the Wildcats at Sanford Center (2-1 and 5-2) during the 2016-17 regular season and defeated NMU 2-1 (3-0, 2-4, 3-1) to advance to the semifinal round of the 2017 WCHA Playoffs. BSU opens the series unbeaten by the Wildcats in 11 of the last 13 meetings (9-2-2) between the teams.

Bemidji State notables:
• Bemidji State took two points out a WCHA series at Bowling Green, Dec. 1-2. The Beavers dropped the opener 3-1, before tying 3-3 in the finale and earing an extra point with a shoot out victory. BSU moves to 5-6-3 overall and are now 2-4-2-2 in conference play this season.

• The Beavers  return to WCHA action Dec. 8-9 for a two-game match up with Northern Michigan. In its first home game since Nov. 11, BSU seeks its first WCHA win since Nov. 4 (3-2 at Alaska).

• Bemidji State is 11-5-3 all-time versus NMU and was 4-1-0 versus the Wildcats in 2016-17 which includes a 2-1, best-of-three series win over NMU in the 2017 WCHA Playoffs.

• BSU is unbeaten in 11 of its last 13 meetings ith the WIldcats dating back to Dec. 2014 (9-0-2).

• While BSU is 6-4-1 at Sanford Center versus NMU and are 5-1-1 since Dec. 14, 2014 when hosting the Wildcats.

• Seniors Kyle Bauman, Gerry Fitzgerald and Myles Fitzgerald have flourished versus NMU in their careers. Each has seven points on four goals and three assist, while Gerry has a pair of game-winning goals.

• In 13 career appearances versus NMU, Michael Bitzer is 9-2-2 with a 0.99 goals against average and a .957 save percentage and has five career shutouts versus the Wildcats.

• Bemidji State is 3-3-1 at home in 2017-18 and have averaged 3.28 goals per game, while netting just 2.28 per game on the road. BSU’s special teams on home ice has been tremendous. Its power-play unit is 6-for-26 (.231) and its penalty-kill squad is 22-for-24 (.916).

• Last season BSU was 20-6-2 in league play to claim the MacNaughton Cup the regular-season crown with two games to play.
• BSU head coach Tom Serratore is in his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 271-262-73 (.507).

• Senior Kyle Bauman and freshman Aaron Miller lead the Beaver heding into this series. Each has three assist sin BSU’s last three games. Bauman is second on the team with 13 points (6g-7a) and has a team-best six goals, while Miller more than doubled his seaosn point total to five (1g-4a).

• Junior Ian Janco netted the first goal of his BSU career Saturday giving BSU a 3-2 lead late in the third period. He has 1 goal and 1 assist in 25 career appearances on BSU’s blue line.

• Since posting his first point in the Beavers’ sixth game of the season, Charlie Combs has six points (4g-2a) in nine appearances.

•Freshman Adam Brady continues to be an effective piece to the Beavers’ power-play unit. He scored his second power-play goal of the season Saturday. Only Jay Dickman has more with three.

• Junior Jay Dickman has moved into a tie with Kyle Bauman for the team’s goal-scoring lead after netting his sixth of the season. He also equalled his single-season career-high for goals scored.

• Currently third on the team in scoring with nine points (6g-3a), Dickman has four goals in BSU’s last five contests and that doesn’t count his shootout winner Saturday.  All but three points (1g-2a) have come in the second game of a series this season.

• Junior Mike Soucier saw his carer-long scoing streak come to an end Saturday. He logged three points (1g-2a) in the Beavers’ prevous three games.

• Bitzer completed the weekend with 2,655 saves. He is two stops from Chuck Scanlon (1971-75) and third place (2,657) on BSU’s all-time saves list.

• At 54-46-14 in his BSU career, Bitzer is eighth at BSU all time and in sole possession of the BSU Division I-era victories lead.

• His 18 career shutouts is a BSU all-time record and stands as the mark for career shuts for a WCHA goaltender.

• This season, BSU is without a win when failing to score three goals (0-4-1).

• BSU has allowed three or more goals seven times this season and is 0-6-1 in those games.

• At Bowling Green, the BSU penalty-kill unit was flawless. It snuffed out all seven of the Falcons’ man advantage opportunities.  

• The penalty-kill unit is not tied for tops in the nation (.915) in penalty-kill percentage snuffing out 43-of-47 opponent man-advantage opportunities. At 26-of-28 (.929) in WCHA play, BSU is second  only to Ferris State (.936).

• BSU was 1-for-9 on the power-play in the Dec. 1-2 series. But BSU is 12-for-54 (.222) on the season to rank 14th nationally and its 8-for-34 (.235) in WCHA play to sit third.